Digital transformation in manufacturing: a strategic guide — Part 2
Improve profitability and maximise return on capital across the operations and asset lifecyles to enhance competitiveness and cut the hype.
In Part 1 of this article, the business benefits of digital transformation beyond the IIoT hype were highlighted, describing the need to find innovative ways to fuse digital technology with your existing people, processes and assets.
Undergoing a digital transformation can enable companies to optimise their planning and operations, asset performance, monitoring and control, as well as provide greater workforce empowerment.
Digital planning and operations
With digital transformation directly impacting the enterprise value chain, business units that were historically in silos are beginning to connect in real time, accelerating towards a unified supply chain model. Planning and operations are fused together resulting in a 360-degree view of the digital value chain for you to visualise, analyse and optimise all aspects of the enterprise.
Feedstock and raw materials data can be analysed, live, against planning, operations, scheduling and distribution. Full plant models can be managed simultaneously within a supply and distribution network. Fast optimisation, combined with user-configurable visualisations and reporting, allows the impact of uncertainties and data changes to be evaluated and understood in real time. Reconciliation and historical trend analysis shows you how and why deviations from plans occurred, enabling increased planning efficiency and making it easier to generate feasible, robust schedules that shrink the gap between planned and actual operations.
The amount and accuracy of production information increases substantially, equipping users with tools and insights to go beyond basic data, OEE and lean manufacturing principles to discover the real metrics that are driving performance, availability and quality throughout all levels of supply chain management, planning and operations. Metrics generated by newly tapped digital data sources enable your team to gain immediate insight into economic decisions across a range of scenarios. Direct integration of operational data and reconciliation environments enables rapid and continual updating of production schedules.
Powerful modelling and analytical tools help your team to pinpoint bottlenecks, and understand how to design more efficient operational workflows. Digital model-driven deployment allows flexible rollout across multiple sites and reduces total cost of ownership (TCO). A consistent and holistic view of the business at each site with KPIs and key scorecard indicators can also be shared across all functions of the enterprise.
As comprehensive operations efficiency models are deployed, your team can instantly see which equipment, processes, groups or sites are underperforming. This provides part of the foundation for developing an asset performance management strategy.
Digital asset performance management
Creating digital twins of assets allows users to optimise performance, reliability and maintenance. Low-cost sensing technology has enabled increased fidelity of your assets’ operational behaviour. Sensor networks become another data source, contributing to the digital twin. This is particularly important for legacy assets that were not ‘born digital’. As digital tools such as predictive analytics and machine learning software begin to peer into the physical world through sensor networks and other data sources, a variety of cloud, on-premise and hybrid tools are available to predict equipment failures before they occur. Moreover, maintenance can be scheduled around optimum economic and production conditions.
A complete digital asset performance management (APM) solution combines enterprise data capture with asset management, advanced workflow, mobility, predictive analytics and risk-based management. Work orders are automatically generated to relieve maintenance issues. Analytic capabilities continue to evolve from predictive to prescriptive — from what will happen to what should be done. This integration with advanced workflow facilitates continuous process improvement while ensuring assets are not overly maintained, and MRO inventory costs are reduced.
A study of common failure patterns by ARC Advisory Group found that 82% of failure types are random. Only 18% are predictable and can be prevented using traditional maintenance methods. Machine learning helps identify inefficiencies and abnormalities in equipment operation long before regular inspection. Engineers can reference operational models and digital twins for recent abnormalities in design versus operational performance.
Digital monitoring and control
As new intelligence is driven into industrial process control and manufacturing, the control of assets shifts from the logic run on traditional local programmable logic controllers, HMIs and historians to a more efficient production strategy driven by intelligence found in cloud-based applications. New data, from real-time operations and IoT sensors, feed cloud-based applications to create insight into how process and production efficiency can be improved. Using digital control strategies, these new efficiencies are driven back into operations in real time.
While data has become a priceless asset to the enterprise, the ability to make sense of data and use it to drive new insight can unlock the greatest value. The specifications of HMI and SCADA solutions vary widely — from simple and straightforward to complex and demanding. Similarly, user requirements vary based on the scale and size of the underlying production or operations processes. New tools can help deliver user experiences with real-time contextualised, visualised operations and improved situational awareness. These capabilities offer enhanced benefits over traditional HMI and SCADA solutions including:
- A unified interface: Universal context of real-time processes, alarms, events and historical data across disparate business systems and units through a unified data model with cross-platform support for different client interfaces including mobile, augmented and virtual reality.
- Digital twins: Design and operational performance are quickly compared for operational anomalies, with control tag data overlaid on physical assets through AR/ VR technology.
- Safety: Mobile, augmented and virtual reality technology provide real-time, easy-to-follow, visual, step-by-step operating procedures and key messages to operations personnel, reducing human error and guiding operators to appropriate equipment for performing specific tasks. Operators are also supplied with information about the location of existing hazards by superimposing them over the operator’s location.
- Accelerated training: Operator training is accelerated by allowing operators to perform new tasks and maintain products using the technology’s visual instructions. This enables compliance standardisation across processes, functional teams and sites.
- Modelling and configuration: 3D CAD/CAM drawings of asset and components are virtually displayed for operators to reference during design, maintenance and operations tasks.
- Knowledge capture: Information management technology enables real-time data capture and transmission to a central repository for additional analysis and sharing between business units and digital assets.
- Decreased capital expenditures: Cloud technology and software-as-a-service (SaaS) approaches lower capital expenditure costs and provide flexible software licensing models.
The digitally empowered workforce
Digital technology is changing how you can train and operate your people throughout the asset and operations life cycles. New tools are also improving knowledge transfer and increasing situational awareness throughout your global team. Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology is quickly gaining traction in industrial applications. Operators can now learn how to safely and effectively operate a plant or facility or perform maintenance on an asset through immersive virtual reality experiences. Another important trend is the move towards mobile technology in industrial applications. When these technologies are coupled with digital twin approaches, operators and plant personnel can visualise processes and assets in real time, live from the floor of the plant.
Operator training simulators (OTSs), powered by advanced augmented and virtual reality technology, bring digital twins of assets, control rooms and even entire plants to life in a safe and controlled learning environment. Immersive technology such as head-mounted virtual reality displays and 3D projection allows your teams to experience training in a simulated, identical control room or plant. This provides a realistic virtual learning environment, which prepares your teams to act appropriately in any given situation.
As operators leave the classroom and enter their day-to-day working environment, augmented reality empowers them with new streams of information and insight on enterprise operations. It uses similar technology to that found in virtual reality, but applies it in an operational context allowing operators to perform their tasks more efficiently. For example, remote support can be provided to operators in the form of maps and diagrams that help guide a plant worker to the physical location of an asset or process failure. Augmented digital procedures also shorten the time required to train new technicians on how to perform standard operating procedures.
Mobile technology can unite teams in virtual settings no matter where they are physically located. Diverse experts can perform their duties from wherever they are, accessing, monitoring and managing the plant or factory live, from handheld devices. Workers are no longer as tied to the physical plant location but instead can carry a digital twin of the plant or factory in their pocket at all times. Mobile technology also enables workers to capture data, collecting it from digitally stranded assets deployed before internet connectivity was common in industrial devices. This, in turn, boosts operational visibility and helps to build situational awareness across global portfolios. In addition, mobile operator rounds digitalise operational processes to ensure best practices are always followed by operators. Digitalising operational processes and maintenance workflows also enables real-time team collaboration during problem resolution.
Mobilising the operator workforce also helps your team to ensure they are following the latest rules and regulations. Stacks of paper maintenance reports, audit logs and repair procedures become digital versions of themselves. Information is stored in a central location and backed up to the cloud. Regulatory audit trails can be automatically generated. New maintenance technicians can be trained more quickly, through maintenance procedures and decision support workflows delivered directly to their mobile devices.
Key technology investment pillars
Choosing the right technology investment requires analysis and can be challenging. You may find it helpful to think in terms of four key technology pillars that can ensure successful digital transformation and optimum return on investment for your business.
Comprehensive value chain
Modern digital platforms need to deliver returns across the comprehensive value chain of your enterprise. Technology investments must enable the digital integration of engineering, planning and operations, control, visualisation, information and asset performance management solutions to create a 360° view, from the shop floor to the top floor.
Open and system-agnostic
Interoperability and cross-platform support accelerate a path towards continual process improvement. Rapidly sharing big data and insights across multiple platforms including cloud, mobile, augmented and virtual reality requires system-agnostic technology that augments rather than replaces your existing asset investments. An open, system-agnostic approach to digital transformation drives long-term value and lower TCO.
Technology investments should be backed by a multidisciplinary ecosystem of technology partners. Ecosystems should include design, development, delivery, maintenance and support of industry-specific solutions, on a global scale. Your ecosystem partners in this enterprise may include software developers, technical distributors, system integrators, OEM providers and technology partners, all focused on extending value and driving innovation across your business.
Flexible and agile implementation
Adapting to unforeseen events becomes automatic when you use flexible technology implementation. True digital transformation platforms help your teams to choose the right mix of deployment options including on-premise, cloud and hybrid rollouts. Agility in procurement allows your team to try out several options, through perpetual licensing or subscription-based approaches. Solutions for implementing technology on an as-needed, staged approach help your organisation reduce upfront costs and decrease time-to-value of modern technology investments, thereby accelerating your progress towards increased profitability.
How to get started
Ultimately, your decision to pursue digital transformation comes down to one fundamental question: how does digital transformation benefit your business? The answer lies beyond investing in new technologies or gathering even more data. Digital transformation is about innovating the business strategy, improving operations and uncovering unprecedented new opportunities for both efficiency and productivity.
According to McKinsey & Company, when technologies like intelligent engineering data management, cloud, advanced analytics, and digital twins are pursued as part of an organisational digital strategy, they can play a role in improving operating margins by as much as 20%. Modern digital tools that support data-driven processes across the entire asset and operations life cycle not only enable new greenfield industrial applications to be delivered more effectively and with full data-centric digital information, but also enable brownfield applications with improved operations and increased efficiency.
Digital transformation is part of an ongoing journey towards continuous process improvement involving the collaboration of people, processes and assets through technology. It doesn’t happen all at once, but instead builds momentum over time as people, processes and assets are digitally fused together to bridge the operations technology and information technology gap. Start small in your strategy and adoption. But start now to maintain or improve your competitive level and market position.
Major investments upfront are not required to begin a digital transformation journey. Consulting services can help your team to assess your current asset inventory and business operations and chart your best overall digital transformation strategy. Pilot projects of digital technology such as predictive analytics and virtual reality can help the enterprise understand where to make the best technology investments to improve profitability and maximise return on capital.
Digitalisation offers machine builders and manufacturers opportunities to increase their...
The ever-expanding overlap between IT and OT networks is forcing many organisations to assess and...
Would you ask a software vendor how easy it is to rip out and replace their software?